Moon Duo – XOYO, London, UK (4th February 2018)

The Moon Duo experience at XOYO is full on and the audience is immediately immersed in their intense world of repeated keyboard and bass synth patterns, machine-like drums, whispered words and psychedelic guitar. Lighting is all behind the band, pointing out into the crowd. A screen covering the back of the stage shows abstract projections of shapes, lines and blobs in different colours. Between tracks, rather than banter and stage patter, Moon Duo use disembodied taped voices to fill in while they re-set their pedals and sequencers.

The opening two tracks crack along remorselessly; the motorik groove is unrelenting and clinical. Krautrock pioneer the late Jaki Liebezeit of legendary German band Can would have been proud of drummer John Jeffrey. The third track is equally robust in its motorik beat, the only difference is that it’s a lot faster. The back projections become more colourful to match the quicker pace. Guitarist and main singer Ripley Johnson provides variety, his guitar breaking out of the seamless repetition into spaced-out psych-rock escapades. And Sanea Yamada adds fat keyboard chords to her relentless bass synth lines.

The fourth song starts with the sound of cold wind but then Yamada teases a synth-pop tune from her keys. The projections turn into coloured mountainous shapes, morphing across the screen. The track, ‘White Rose’, is another from the group’s album ‘Occult Architecture Vol 1’ — a dark and insistent work created in and designed for winter nights like this. 

Moon Duo see ‘Vol 1’ as the Yin to the more sprightly Yang of ‘Vol 2’, which was released later on last year. Johnson’s guitar fuzzes through the chords on ‘White Rose’, while the rhythm from the synth bass and Jeffrey’s drumming is as rigorous as ever. Keyboards and guitar wind and wrap around each other, with an occasional drum roll breaking the unremitting percussive attack, signalling a subtle shift. The softly sung vocals say “lost in the feeling” as the audience nods along, carried away, lost in the song. 

Later, they play ‘Sevens’ from ‘Vol 2’, enlivened by Yamada singing in cheerier contrast to Johnson’s sombre voice and by her synth pop riffs, as well as by quick, playful drum rolls that accompany screeching layers of guitar. In between these ‘Occult Architecture’ songs, Moon Duo play a few tracks from older albums. A highpoint is Jeffrey’s mechanically consistent drumming and the endlessly repeated five-note novation bass keyboard riff from Yamada on ‘Night Beat’. Guitars, vocals and synthesisers play around this constant core — sometimes sounding like Kraftwerk with Berlin-era Bowie guitar — until the track ends with head-spinning guitar notes flying and echoing through the air. 

The main set ends with ‘Free Action’ from ‘Circles’ (2012), powered by mesmerically metronomic shaker, hi hat, bass drum and snare, with guitar and synths adding texture. Johnson’s axe seems to drive the track faster but it’s an aural illusion as the beat goes on. 

A heady influence from the repetitive vibe of electropunks Suicide (made up of Alan Vega and Martin Rev) is made explicit in the encore, as Moon Duo take on ‘Jukebox Babe’ by the late Vega, with Yamada’s tinny ’70s cosmic disco keyboard riffs adding charm to the punchy psych beat. It fits perfectly between the main set and the band’s hypnotic cover of ‘No Fun’ by The Stooges, which breaks the mood of head-nodding absorption in the crowd to spark a slowly bouncing singalong to Iggy Pop’s lyrics. It’s a fun way to end an enthralling and mind-boggling gig. 

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